23 August 2005

Japan Rail Pass Travels

We initiated our Japan Rail Passes 3 weeks ago with a same-day roundtrip by bullet train from Tokyo (東京 'east capital') to Shizuoka (静岡 'calm hill') in a fruitless effort to view Mt. Fuji (富士山 'rich gentleman mountain'). Not once did we see any mountaintops--all being obscured by clouds and haze. I don't know how many times as a kid I strained in vain for a glimpse of Mt. Fuji as we passed Shizuoka on the train. (I have seen it on other trips, but only from afar.)

On Monday, I made a final day trip by rail pass to see one other famously beautiful place, the Matsushima (松島 'pine island') bay and islands near Sendai (仙台 'hermit platform'). (My wife was tied up with obtaining her work visa, and my daughter had left on Sunday to return to college in the U.S.) Matsushima was spectacular--as lovely as Miyajima (宮島 'shrine island') in my estimation--even though I didn't get a chance to see all the best views.

In between, we made a roundtrip from Tokyo to Sapporo (札幌, an Ainu name whose kanji meanings are arbitrary), with a day trip from Sapporo to Asahikawa (旭川 'rising-sun river'). We had to pay extra for the sleeping berths going up.

We also made day trips from Ashikaga (足利 'foot profit'--the second kanji is never read kaga except in this placename, so perhaps kaga formerly meant something less favorable, like 'swelling' or 'carbuncle') to Niigata (新潟 'new lagoon', but with a rarer pronunciation for 'new'), Nikko (日光 'sun shine'), Utsunomiya (宇都宮 'sky capital shrine'), and twice to Narita airport. I think we got our money's worth. I've got a few travelogues to write up now.

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